JSU Faculty Attend American Democracy Project at Yellowstone National Park


JSU professors Shawn Carter (economics), Jennifer Foster (English), Mica Mecham (English) and Erin Rider (sociology) attended the annual Stewardship of Public Lands seminar at the 2018 American Democracy Project (ADP), held at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming in May.

This event is sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, an association of approximately 420 universities and colleges dedicated to providing learning-centered education accessible by all students, including underserved populations.  

Looking back on the experience, all four JSU attendees found it valuable.

“For me, this was the trip of a lifetime,” Foster said. “We saw Grand Prismatic and Old Faithful, and ate a picnic lunch next to a grove of Aspens. What I didn't realize is that I would come away wanting to share this experience with my students."

Carter agreed.

“By participating in this year's 'Stewardship for Public Lands Seminar,' I was able to gather classroom materials that go beyond any textbook and include various sides and opinions about these public land management issues,” he said.  

During the seminar, they learned about the controversies surrounding grizzlies, bison, snowmobiles and wolves on public lands. They also heard from scientists and park rangers and then interviewed local residents and various stakeholders.

“I was never fully aware of all the controversial issues that surrounded the park, such as the extinction, reintroduction and management of certain species of wildlife and how this affects the ranchers, or how the 4 million annual visitors take a great toll on the unique and various ecosystems in the park,” Foster said. “Hearing the passionate stories of the men and women who tirelessly fight for their causes helped me to be much more informed and interested in not only preserving the beauty in Yellowstone, but also in the purposeful management of our own wilderness areas in Alabama.”

The ADP seminar lays the groundwork for academic programs the JSU professors will design for their students in the upcoming academic year.

“The experience of touring Yellowstone National Park and learning of contentious issues about bison management, wolf reintroduction, the Yellowstone ecosystem and the challenge of meeting the dual mandate-mission of the park has re-energized my course planning," Rider said, "and I am eager to share with my students curriculum on Yellowstone in my courses this fall.”

JSU students in sociology, English, finance and economics courses will learn about the issues presented at Yellowstone.

“Moving forward, I will integrate much of this into my lectures to add a name and first-hand examples into the discussions,” Carter said. “I believe this will stimulate interest and give the students a sense of ownership with their own analysis and recommended solutions. It will also increase student retention of a subject matter that may otherwise be forgotten soon after the class is over. While they may not retain all of the economic modelling involved, an example of how a public-land decision impacted a Montana rancher and his business model could be a story they remember and share with others.”

In addition to learning about these issues in a classroom on campus, some JSU students may have the opportunity to visit Yellowstone.

“My goal is for several of my colleagues and me to bring a group of JSU students back to Yellowstone so that our students can be as inspired as we have been while simultaneously earning course credit,” Foster said.